"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Friday, April 18, 2014

Engagement of Teachers: Key to School Improvement

Both in reading and math, teachers serve the important role of measuring the pulse of their students. Effective teachers are those who could navigate various ways to reach children. Experience, which enables a balance between order and innovation, plus mastery of the subject provides the necessary tools for teachers to discover and develop various approaches to help students learn. However, even with the best tools and resources, even with the best talent, teachers can only be good if they are strongly motivated. Motivation happens if teachers take ownership of their work. Motivation unfortunately does not work when teachers are treated as robots. And here is the bad news: According to a Gallup survey, "Teachers are dead last among the occupational groups Gallup surveyed in terms of their likelihood to say their opinions seem to count at work." In the United States, teachers in K-12 are among the highest to express satisfaction with their lives overall (second only to physicians). Thus, it is troubling that with regard to work, teachers are not as engaged:

Above image captured from Gallup's report, State of America's Schools, The Path to Winning Again in Education
The Gallup report offers some advice:

The first advice is especially striking. It goes to the heart of how we really view teachers. It is truly the first question we need to ask before we even start dreaming up schemes on how to improve basic education. If we skip this one, we are missing a very important point. This is one of the biggest pitfalls of failed education reforms. This is the strongest objection against the Philippines' education reform. Teachers do not have a voice. When teachers are disengaged, it is highly unlikely that students will be engaged. And with a lack of engagement, learning hardly occurs....

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Experience Matters in Teaching: One Big Reason Why We Should Treat Teachers Right

The previous post in this blog, "What is wrong with how we are teaching math?", underscores the importance of assessing what students need. Teaching is supposed to be a lifelong process of learning as well. It must be responsive. It is true that there are quite a few individuals who seem to have an inborn talent of connecting with students but for most of us, we need experience to improve our teaching. For this reason, it maybe useful to examine how teachers are introduced to the profession. It is likewise helpful to look at teacher turnover rates as this affects not only student learning but also undermines investments in both time and resources on the country's teaching force. The following is an example of such study:

To read the report, visit Beginning Teacher Attrition and Mobility
Among the findings of the above study are: "Of the teachers who began teaching in public schools in 2007 or 2008, about 10 percent were not teaching in 2008–09, and 12 percent were not teaching in 2009–10." These are alarming numbers. It is not surprising then that University of Pennsylvania's Richard Ingersoll extrapolates that about half of school teachers leave the profession within their first five years of teaching.

Why is teacher retention important? There are so many reasons. It takes years to learn how to navigate a curriculum. It takes years to master lesson plans, techniques, and teaching resources. But one big reason is that it takes time for a teacher to actually know his or her students. It takes several years to get introduced to students who come with different backgrounds, attitude, likes, dislikes and temperament. Most "theories" about learning out there are actually quack science. (the use of the word "theories" here obviously do not correspond to its proper usage in science) A recent paper by Begeny and Greene in Psychology in the Schools illustrates an example:

Begeny, J. C. and Greene, D. J. (2014), CAN READABILITY FORMULAS BE USED TO SUCCESSFULLY GAUGE DIFFICULTY OF READING MATERIALS?. Psychol. Schs., 51: 198–215. doi: 10.1002/pits.21740
The above work is on something that may appear simple. The readability measure of a given material describes the level of difficulty. With such measure, it is hoped that reading assignments can be made appropriately. One example is shown below:
The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Readability Formula 
Step 1: Calculate the average number of words used per sentence. 
Step 2: Calculate the average number of syllables per word. 
Step 3: Multiply the average number of words by 0.39 and add it to the average number of syllables per word multiplied by 11.8. 
Step 4: Subtract 15.59 from the result. 
The specific mathematical formula is: 
FKRA = (0.39 x ASL) + (11.8 x ASW) - 15.59 
FKRA = Flesch-Kincaid Reading Age 
ASL = Average Sentence Length (i.e., the number of words divided by the number of sentences) 
ASW = Average number of Syllable per Word (i.e., the number of syllables divided by the number of words) 
Analyzing the results is a simple exercise. For instance, a score of 5.0 indicates a grade-school level; i.e., a score of 9.3 means that a ninth grader would be able to read the document. This score makes it easier for teachers, parents, librarians, and others to judge the readability level of various books and texts for the students. 
Theoretically, the lowest grade level score could be -3.4, but since there are no real passages that have every sentence consisting of a one-syllable word, it is a highly improbable result in practice. 
What the authors found is that scales or equations like the one above do not really work. The above results highlight the importance of teachers being able to gauge by themselves where their students are and choose appropriately what their students should be reading. A lot of teaching is really learned inside a classroom, a concrete example of why experience matters....

Monday, April 14, 2014

What Is Wrong with How We Are Teaching Math?

Although quite a number of people would be quick to respond, the above question is in fact complex and difficult to answer. There is a tendency to dislike one specific algorithm or way to solve a problem, yet some people unknowingly subscribe to one specific way of teaching children how to do math. Some even go as far as teaching so many ways to do math that not subscribing to this diverse set is now viewed as wrong. Rote learning is frowned upon, but now students need to go through mindless and seemingly endless examples of various ways that learning by drill during my time as a grade school student seems like a walk in the park. For instance, here are five ways to add 47 and 35:

Above image copied from Five Ways to Add Multi-digit Whole Numbers

Friday, April 11, 2014

If we could do income tax the way DepEd Delivers learning materials

by Joy Rizal

Originally posted on Facebook
April 9, 2014 at 3:23am
If you watch any TV here in the Philippines you are sure to have seen the recent ad spots by our government reminding everyone to register, fill out our tax forms correctly, and pay.

I could talk about how much fun it has been to go to the government office for copies of the tax forms, only to discover once at home that no instructions were included.  This makes doing the paperwork very difficult when the forms say enter the amount following the instructions of section whatever.  When there is no instruction section whatever. Even the work schedule pages say fill in the number following instructions from another mysterious non-included instruction section.

Ask why the instruction pages are not included?  The basic response is we do not have enough and cannot afford to copy them for everyone.

(And the Philippine government officials wonder why they have so much trouble getting cooperation from the people.)

However grumbling about Income Tax and how it is currently implemented is not what I want to write about today.   For I believe I have discovered the solution for all of our tax woes.

After many hours of consultations with special committees and exhaustive discussions with specialists, (see foot note 1) I believe I have come up with a solution to the income tax problem that should be acceptable to everyone.  Especially since we will be following the example set by the Philippine Government - Specifically The Philippine Department of Education (DEPED).

The solution is to fill out and file the tax forms and pay our taxes the same way The Philippine Department of Education apparently fills out its government documentation and the way it delivers text books, learning materials, etc.

The following is one possible example of how we might process the Income Tax if we followed the precedence set by DEPED.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

What Should Children Learn in School?

By simply raising standards, it does not mean learning will improve inside classrooms. An obsession with goals and assessments does not guarantee quality education. Such exercise is usually myopic, boiling down to our own often misguided answers to the question "What should children learn in school?".

Our answers are often misguided because we fail to see that a fruitful relationship between a teacher and a student must be truly dynamic and responsive. Teaching begins first and foremost with getting to know the student. Learning also works with the student getting to know the teacher. In order to advance, learning inside the classroom must begin not with setting the goals, but with identifying the strengths and challenges of a student. Instead of asking what children should learn, the first question must be "What does a child need?"

It is truly an entirely different question. No one should be able to answer this question without knowing the child first.  As adults viewing education, it may help by trying to see the child inside each and everyone of us. Here are my thoughts:

  • We are social and we long for acceptance. We like to do well in sports and we transfer that enthusiasm to our children. A child who is clumsy or poor in motor skills faces a truly difficult time growing up. Fortunately, we do not do the same thing with children who are challenged in math. 
  • We buy lottery tickets but we do understand the odds. We see successful entrepreneurs who brought us Microsoft, Apple, Google and even Facebook. I hope we do realize the odds with that as well. The basketball or football coach in a university has a much higher salary than most professors do. We need to remember though that the university has only one basketball coach. The probability that a kindergarten classroom has one future university basketball coach is much lower than having one future university professor. We need to be realistic.
  • Life is certainly multidimensional. Life is broad. It is only natural that when we set our goals, we limit ourselves. It is ironic. As individuals, we can specialize, we can focus, but we certainly must allow for diversity if we are talking about a group of children. 
  • Those of us who have found passion in our work knows what engagement truly is. That engagement is no different from the energy we have as children playing our favorite games. It is that engagement that we must aspire for inside the classroom.
In order for learning in this century to become a true step in progress, we must finally acknowledge that each child inside a classroom is a unique body, heart and mind.

If We Only Regard Them as Our Very Own....

Downloaded from Photo Blog by Sidney Snoeck,  Sarisari Store

Monday, April 7, 2014

Where Does the Philippines Stand in the Global Youth Wellbeing Index

There is a new global index. There is now an index that focuses on the youth. Early this month, Nicole Goldin with co-authors Payal Patel and Katherine Perry published The Global Youth Wellbeing Index. This report is a joint effort between the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the International Youth Foundation (IYF) with funding from the Hilton Worldwide. The survey looks at the well being of youth defined in the report as individuals aged 12 to 24. The report covers 30 countries, representing different levels of income and encompassing nearly 70 percent of the world's youth population. Where does the Philippines stand? Below is the overall ranking:

Above figure copied from the Global Youth Wellbeing Index
The Philippines is #22, ranking below its neighbors Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia. The index measures the following different domains and the numbers shown in the last column is the Philippines' rank in that particular domain:

Above figure copied from the Global Youth Wellbeing Index
The ranking of the countries in each domain is shown in the following:

Above figure copied from the Global Youth Wellbeing Index
To have a better idea of the scores in each domain, the following data are also shown. Keep in mind that the Philippines is in the lowest third so its score in each domain lies somewhere between the blue and green bars. It should be noted that in the overall ranking, only 12 countries (the upper third) score above the average. 

Above figure copied from the Global Youth Wellbeing Index
The above are indeed self-explanatory. The above index does have its limitations. The education index, for example, hardly uses any measure of learning outcomes. With scores in international standardized exams, the ranking may be dramatically different. It should be noted that in the current ranking in education, the United States is #3, with only Spain and Australia ranking above.

Friday, April 4, 2014

When We Try to Fit Everyone in a Box....

There was a Tagalog poem which I read when I was in college, "Ako ang Daigdig" ("I am the world") by Alejandro G. Abadilla. The poem impressed me not just with its content, but so much more with its style. It was different and in so many ways, was a real strong and proud proclamation of one's uniqueness. This month is "Autism Awareness Month". The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States have recently released the following data:

Above image and caption from
Ten Things to Know About New Autism Data
The number 1 in 68 is just one of the ten things the CDC wants us to know about their most recent data on autism. Another one of those things is that almost half of the children identified with autism had average or above average intellectual ability. Autism is a spectrum. I have had two opportunities to observe a social skills class for young children at a Jewish community center in Fairfax, Virginia. In a class of a dozen children, each individual is unique. It is like reading twelve different poems, twelve different worlds. The following are several paragraphs from an article written by Tom Kershaw:

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Case Against a Curriculum

There are various media through which information may be disseminated. Popular press and social media have the widest reach. With regard to very important issues, mass media indeed shoulder a great responsibility. With complicated matters, pundits are necessary to provide expert opinions so that the public could be best informed. Oftentimes, materials that need to be digested by the public are quite voluminous, deep or too complex that the eyes of an expert become indispensable. Reforms are being introduced on education in the US and in the Philippines. Unfortunately, in both cases, the media seem to have failed in informing the public. With a poorly informed public, political strategies are then very much in play. In the Philippines, where politics is still personality based and oligarchic, the media dropping the ball on correctly informing the public about education reforms serves the purpose of keeping everyone in the dark. In the United States, keeping a reform under a low key may initially be beneficial at the first stages, but in the end, backlash will occur if people suddenly discover something very consequential is being imposed without their knowledge. Continuously misinforming the public works very well in an oligarchic society. However, for a bitterly divided and partisan society like the United States, lack of information fuels only further bickering and propaganda from both sides. A midst this predicament, I am not even sure we know what a curriculum is.

In the Philippines, the K+12 curriculum had been introduced. The curriculum change was so extensive that it was completely mind boggling that it managed to pass both houses of legislature without any hitch. The main items in the new curriculum are (1) compulsory kindergarten, (2) two added years at the end of high school, (3) spiral curriculum in math and the sciences, with science being introduced as a formal subject only in the third grade, (4) mother tongue based - multilingual instruction, with reading and writing in English only being introduced in the second grade, and (5) emphasis on the use of inquiry-based learning methods.

This blog has laid out various criticisms of this curriculum in so many posted articles. In addition, there is likewise the question of implementation of a curriculum. This blog has also cited some learning materials and their current low quality. Lessons are indeed the tangible manifestation of a curriculum inside a classroom, but one still must not confuse what needs to be taught against how it is being taught.

Objections to the K+12 curriculum in the Philippines are basically mute. This blog has been one of the few voices and one reason I heard (This one comes from Filipinos with PhD's) is that we should simply trust DepEd since these people know better. There is widespread apathy. One reason behind the lack of engagement is that unlike my peers, I have children who are just beginning formal schooling. The children of my high school classmates, for example, are now finishing college. Unlike my peers, basic education to me is not simply a memory from the past, but an actual scenario on which the future of my own children depends.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

When We Miss the Point

It is Lent and every Sunday is packed with very profound readings. Today's gospel reading is about a blind man whose eyes were opened. The story unfortunately turns into something absurd. Not a single soul was happy for the fact that someone had gained sight after living a life in darkness. Instead, everyone was focused on who was right and who was wrong.

Missing the point often happens when deference to the correct authority is ignored. Frequently, doubts have already been planted in someone's mind so the one's task is simply to discredit. With this agenda, we really cannot see even if we look. This also happens in education when we do not respect the teachers, the individuals with whom we have entrusted our children. It is necessary that we see teachers as the educators of our children. Otherwise, we will become completely blind.

There was a parent's rant against the Common Core that went viral on Facebook this week:

The above homework was asking the student to write a letter to Jack. Jack was apparently trying to solve the arithmetic problem, 427 - 316 = ?, using the number line. On top of the homework is Jack's drawing of the number line:

I had to clean up the previous picture so that the question is clearer. Jack in the above picture was basically subtracting only 306 from 427. This was the reason why Jack arrived at the answer of 121. This was basically the homework question. It was plainly asking us to review what Jack did. Jack knew decimal places. The 3 in 316 is three hundreds and the 6 is plain 6 ones. What Jack forgot was the 1 in the middle of 316, which was in the tens' place. This homework had nothing to do with teaching students a specific way of subtracting two numbers. This homework was meant to be an activity for a child to review another person's work. Yet, the father who posted the rant became an instant hit on social media.

Dear Jack,
Don’t feel bad. I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering, which included extensive study in differential equations and other higher math applications. Even I cannot explain the Common Core mathematics approach, nor get the answer correct. In the real world, simplification is valued over complication.
427 – 316: 111
The answer is solved in under 5 seconds – 111. The process used is ridiculous and would result in termination if used.
Frustrated Parent

Someone who has studied differential equations and other higher math applications should have developed reading comprehension as well. This parent totally missed the point of this homework. It was not trying to force a specific method of subtraction. It was an opportunity for a student to review someone else's work. Yet, not only did this dad miss the important point, but so did the thousands who have liked and shared the above misguided rant.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Philippines' DepEd Seriously Lacks Innovation

Facing limitations breeds opportunities for transformative innovations. Unfortunately, "transformative innovations" as well as "21st century learning" have been grossly misused by education reformers and policy makers to pretend that they are actually doing something. Science instruction is challenging because of the costs associated with its practical or laboratory component. With limited funds, equipping schools for science laboratory classes can be totally precluded. However, even with relatively larger budgets, laboratories in schools in the United States are quite different from those several decades ago. Laboratories are now designed with both safety and impact on environment in mind. In the Philippines, with more than 600 million pesos, DepEd plans to equip 2966 high schools to support biology, chemistry, physics, earth science, and mathematics. Using the current exchange rate of 44.84 Philippines pesos per US dollar, this budget translates to about US$4849 per school. It is not a lot but this makes it even more imperative to be innovative. Yet, the list of supplies DepEd plans to provide leaves so much to be desired.
To view a complete list download from DepEd Malaybalay Division
Some of the equipment described in this memo comes from the National Science Teaching Instrumentation Center which boasts of the following slogan on its webpage, "The Science of Today Is the Technology of Tomorrow". The following image is copied from its website: